The Patriots went a mind boggling 0-11 on third down against the Dolphins, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the dark days of the early 90’s. Without Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, the offense just couldn’t find anyone who could make a key play on the key down.
Let’s go through them one-by-one and see what went wrong and if there are any trends we can discern.
- 1Q 3rd & 10 = INTERCEPTION TARGETING COOKS: Miami plays Cover 1 Man with a robber in the middle of the field. Brady is going Cooks all the way but Howard sticks with him through his double move and makes the interception. No one else is open anyway, though the protection against a five-man rush was very solid. The opening was there for a second but Brady was off all night and this one of the first glimpses.
- 1Q 3rd & 8 = INCOMPLETE TARGETING HOGAN: Pats have their Pony package with White/Burkhead in and isolate Chris Hogan on the back side against Verner. It’s a similar double move to the one Cooks ran, but Verner is all over it. It’s again a five man rush, though Alonso fakes a blitz which actually leaves James White open. Protection is okay but Brady seemed a little unnerved. He was again looking Hogan the whole way and tries to throw a cross-field sideline pass off his back foot. Again, not a great pass.
- 2Q 3rd & 4 = COMPLETE BURKHEAD 3 YDS: Again it’s the Pony package but this time they go spread offense and run the same route combo Malcolm Butler made his famous Super Bowl winning interception on. Like Butler, Alonso reads it perfectly. He doesn’t get the interception, but he makes the tackle short of the first down with help from Reshad Jones. Protection was fine, just well played by the Dolphins.
- 2Q 3rd & 3 = COMPLETE WHITE 1 YD: This one cost points just before the half as it forced the Pats to settle for a field goal when a conversion would’ve yielded a good chance for a touchdown. Again, Pony package but when Brady motions White back inside from the spread, they quickly snap the ball and Brady flips it to White on a sweep. Again, Miami sniffs it out immediately. Alonso speeds to the edge, while Chris Hogan whiffs on his block allowing the outside corner to ensure White doesn’t get the first down.
- 3Q 3rd &16 = INTERCEPTION TARGETING COOKS: The Dolphins are in zone and Brady chucks it downfield hoping for a miracle. Protection was very good, unfortunately the Dolphins were once again all over this. Howard’s closing speed and ability to make a contested interception was impressive. Unfortunately Amendola was open underneath for the first down.
- 3Q 3rd & 1 = INCOMPLETE TARGETING COOKS: This one was a quick comeback route, the kind that Malcolm Mitchell excelled at last year, but that Cooks hasn’t quite gotten down yet. Howard gets away with a bit of a hold on it but the ball is right there for Cooks. Wondering why not run it here given the Pats were already 0-5 on third down at this point after going shotgun every time.
- 3Q 3rd & 9 = INCOMPLETE TARGETING HOGAN: Miami’s Cover 2 is perfect and Brady just chucks it up to Hogan. It was closer to being complete than it might’ve looked, unfortunately Dwayne Allen released after an initial block and was wide open underneath.
- 4Q 3rd & 8 = BRADY SACKED: More of a coverage sack, this play was a quick-snap which fooled not only some of Miami but also some of the Patriots receivers, including primary target Chris Hogan who fails to get off the snap. Amendola gets triple covered, while White draws two defenders. Brady probably had Cooks for a moment up the seam, but by that point the timing of the play was already disrupted.
- 4Q 3rd & 4 = INCOMPLETE TARGETING COOKS: Brady tries to hit Cooks on quick slant but he just can’t elude Howard, who plays with textbook hands at the line of scrimmage. This is a route Julian Edelman excels at. Pressure was no factor, no one got open quick.
- 4Q 3rd & 20 = COMPLETE AMENDOLA 9 YDS: Dolphins have seven defenders covering three Patriots receivers so there wasn’t much to work with. Obviously, it’s 3rd and 20. Brady squeezes a meaningless completion in to Amendola.
- 4Q 3rd & 15 = INCOMPLETE TARGETING AMENDOLA: Again a crappy situation after a Solder holding call backed the Pats up to their 15. Brady has to readjust to the outside rush but the pocket remains clean enough that he unloads one at Amendola. Textbook defense for Miami, leaving a minimal window that’s too small for a touchdown.
Of the 11 third downs, four of them were 10 yards or more. That leaves seven that were manageable, including four that were less than five yards. Every single time the Pats were in the shotgun, and while the protection was generally good on third down, no one was getting open. And when they were open, which was rare and usually underneath, Brady did not find them.
No matter they tried with Cooks, who was targeted on four third down, nothing worked. Brady took some low-percentage deep shots, but even the quick wham-bam plays that have been a staple of the New England attack weren’t working.
Eventually Brady started looking more toward Amendola, but Miami was smart to pay extra attention to him. Overall it just wasn’t Brady’s best game. He’s allowed to have a bad game here at PatsPropaganda without speculating what it means. That’s football and every player has bad games. Brady is still on top of the league and I’d be surprised if we see another performance out him like this one over the next 4-6 games.
The simple truth of this game is that Brady must have Gronk and Amendola for this offense to function at a high level. They cannot do it with only Cooks, Hogan and the running backs. I do think getting away from the run really made them on dimensional on third downs, so if they have to deal without another game this season without Gronk and/or Amendola, there needs to be a real dedication to getting the ground game going.